Surgères, France - Cendrine Marrouat Photography

I spent the first ten years of my life in Surgères, a town near La Rochelle and the Atlantic Ocean.

This place is dear to my heart because the lady I consider as my third grandmother lived there. (She passed away in February 2014.)

My oldest friend also lives in a hamlet nearby. We met in kindergarten, hit it off right away, and became inseparable. Then, at the end of the 1980s, I had to move to Toulouse with my mother and her boyfriend of the time.

My friend and I lost touch a few years after that. But I often thought of her.

Then, one day of August 2016, her name popped up in a private message on Facebook. She had found me after almost 25 years! I was ecstatic to have her back in my life.

She visited me in Toulouse, while I was taking care of my grandmother; and brought her husband and two daughters with her. Then, it was my turn to stay a few days in their home a couple of months later. We had a wonderful time.

During my short visit there, I spent an afternoon in Surgères. I wanted to take photos to share with you. You will find my favorites below.

But first, some historical tidbits...

Surgères has been occupied since Neolithic times. However, the earliest recorded history dates back to the 10th century. At the time, the Duke of Aquitaine wanted to protect his lands against Norman invasion. So, he had a fortress (Castrum Surgeriacum) built on the marshes. Two centuries later, the fortress had become a small city. A castle and a church had also also been erected on the ramparts.

Surgères became "English" when Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry II of England in 1152. It was then "liberated" four centuries later. The ramparts were knocked down following the fall of La Rochelle (1628).

After phylloxera (1878) had destroyed the winemaking industry that had brought prosperity to the town, farmers turned to dairy and created cooperatives. The École nationale d'industrie laitière et d'industries agroalimentaires (National College of Dairy and Agricultural Food Industries) was instrumental in reviving Surgères.

The town is now famous for two things: butter and Hélène de Fonsèque. Also known as Hélène de Surgères (1546–1618), she was the daughter of the local baron and one of Catherine de Medici's protégées. Poet Pierre de Ronsard (1524–1585) fell in love with her and celebrated her beauty in his Sonnets for Hélène. While the queen encouraged the affair, the young woman ended up marrying Philippe de Barbezières...

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